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Botulism study could lead to new vaccines and treatments to counter bioterrorist attacks

Of all the weapons in the bioterrorist arsenal, none is as potent as botulinum neurotoxin, which causes botulisma potentially fatal disease with symptoms that include severe paralysis of the limbs and respiratory muscles. Just 1 gram of botulinum neurotoxin, evenly dispersed and inhaled, could kill more than a million people, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Botulinum also holds the distinction of being the only high-risk biological weapon thats approved for therapeutic and cosmetic use as the active ingredient in the widely prescribed commercial products Botox and Dysport.

Now, for the first time, scientists from Stanford University and the Medical School of Hannover in Germany have figured out how this powerful neurotoxin binds to and disables individual nerve cells. Researchers say their discovery, published in the Dec. 13 online edition of the journal Nature, could lead to new treatments for botulism, which also is caused by eating botulinum-contaminated food.

Our results could provide the basis for the rational development of preventive vaccines against botulinum neurotoxins, said study co-author Axel T. Brunger, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator who holds professorships in four Stanford unitsthe Molecular and Cellular Physiology Department, the Neurology and Neurological Sciences Department, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) and, by courtesy, the Structural Biology Department.

Effective binding inhibitors or vaccines are urgently needed, given the concerns about the safety and scarcity of current botulism therapies, Brunger added.

3-D images

Along with the Stanford experiment, Nature simultaneously published a separate study led by scientists from the Scripps Research Institute. In both studies, scientists used a technique called X-ray crystallography to produce the first three-dimensional, atomic-scale images of botulinum neurotoxin binding t
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
831-915-0088
Stanford University
13-Dec-2006


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